24 April 1998

Abstraction levy in pipeline?

A COMPULSORY abstraction levy is the best way to stave off further irrigation restrictions.

So says Cranfield Universitys Keith Weatherhead, honorary secretary of the UK Irrigation Association. "No-one likes paying levies. But the alternative is likely to be higher abstraction charges, more legislation, and possibly a much smaller industry."

Despite recent soakings, irrigation water is scarce and will become scarcer, says Mr Weatherhead. "For many farmers, new abstraction licences are unobtainable. Often, there isnt even enough water for existing licensees.

"Meanwhile, the water companies want more, and the public worries about environmental damage, real and imagined. All too easily, farmers can be portrayed as the problem, wasting valuable water."

Critics claim irrigation water is too cheap, says Mr Weatherhead. "Even supporters comment on how little farmers seem to be doing to support their own case.

"I believe the irrigation industry must show more commitment to saving water and protecting the environment. And it must prove it by committing funds to promote responsible irrigation."

Activities, he says, could include:

&#8226 Collating and distributing data on irrigation efficiencies and developments.

&#8226 Researching and promoting water saving practices.

&#8226 Providing information exchange on best practice.

&#8226 Training irrigators to save water.

&#8226 Forming co-operative local water user groups.

The proposed levy would be charged on all abstraction based on licensed quantities – a fair and simple way of providing a stable income, claims Mt Weatherhead.

A levy of 1p/cu m would raise over £3m/year, he calculates. "Typically this would add only 2% to total irrigation costs." &#42